Literature of the Holocaust
maintained by Al Filreis

Lithuanian Jewish heritage endangered

From: C-upi@clari.net (UPI)
Subject: Lithuanian Jewish heritage endangered
Date: Thu, 28 Nov 1996 20:00:26 PST

NEW YORK, Nov. 29 (UPI) -- The New York Times commented editorially Friday on threats to Jewish literary heritage in Lithuania: Much of the splendid Jewish literary heritage of Vilnius, Lithuania, sits deteriorating and untended in a Catholic church in the Baltic capital.

The thousands of Hebrew and Yiddish texts, many from the 17th and 18th centuries, are nearly all that is left from the Jewish civilization that once flourished there. The papers and books, long hidden under stacks of Soviet farm statistics, deserve better treatment and permanent storage in a place where scholars can use them. Ideally, the collection should remain in Vilnius, but if that proves impractical, the archive should be moved to a center of Jewish scholarship and life like Jerusalem or New York.

Vilnius was a remarkable center of Jewish culture for several centuries until the Nazi conquest and Soviet occupation that followed. The city, known as Vilna in Yiddish, was home to dozens of synagogues, Yiddish newspapers and theater groups, and notable Jewish scholarship. After the Nazi liquidation of Jews and an exodus of survivors under Soviet rule, only 4,000 Jews remain in Vilnius today.

Some are trying valiantly to revive Jewish life in their city, but they lack the financial and scholarly resources to do so on their own. Preservation of the aging Hebrew and Yiddish texts is the first necessity. Institutions of Jewish scholarship in Europe, Israel, and America should provide financial and technical assistance to relocate the materials to a more suitable setting in Vilnius where they can be restored, copied and catalogued.

Keeping the material in Vilnius would give the Jewish community there a sense of continuity, and serve as an inspiration to a city still struggling to overcome decades of repression and enforced denial of its own history. The texts themselves would be enhanced if they could be studied in the place where they were produced.

Absent generous financial support from outside, the Jewish community of Vilnius may not be able to provide a suitable home for the manuscripts. If they cannot be preserved and properly maintained for scholars in Vilnius, the texts should be transferred elsewhere, with copies retained in Vilnius. Either way, the papers and books must not be allowed to decay further. The Jewish culture of Vilnius was deliberately destroyed. The record of that civilization should not be lost now through neglect.

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